the Trevi Fountain

Trevi is the corruption of trivium (Latin for "three-way junction"): once three main roads converged in the middle of the district, on a spot now corresponding to piazza dei Crociferi, whose shape is still vaguely reminiscent of the original crossing.
According to a different theory, Trevi comes from the name of the site where the water of the Aqua Virgo (see below) sprung from during the Middle Ages. In fact, the original ancient springs of this aqueduct had been abandoned in favour of others, whose place was named Trebium.
The medieval name Regio Trivi et Vielate also mentions the contracted name of via Lata (now called via del Corso), the urban stretch of via Flaminia whose southern part the district included.

Three parallel swords, either horizontally or diagonally arranged, likely referred to the three roads of the junction.

piazza Madonna di Loreto; vicolo San Bernardo; via Magnanapoli; via XXIV Maggio; via del Quirinale; via XX Settembre; piazza San Bernardo; via di Santa Susanna; via Leonida Bisolati; via di San Basilio; piazza Barberini; via del Tritone; via del Nazareno; via del Bufalo; via del Pozzetto; piazza San Claudio; via di Santa Maria in Via; via delle Muratte; via del Corso; piazza Venezia.

(the black numbers in square brackets refer to the map on the right)

Trevi includes most of the Quirinal Hill, and the land on its western and southern sides. This partially corresponds to the ancient Regio VII, which was named after via Lata (previously described). During the imperial age, the lower part of the aforesaid regio was a busy neighborhood crowded with shops, while in the hilly part, scarsely inhabited, were only a few rich mansions.
The Aqua Virgo, an aqueduct whose source is said to have been revealed to thirsty Roman soldiers by a maiden (virgo), built in 19 BC, had its main output on the site of the aforesaid three-way crossing (trivium). Being the only aqueduct that underwent several maintainance works over the centuries, by remaining active it enabled the neighborhood to survive well also during the Middle Ages, although the change of its sources, as mentioned in the NAME paragraph, caused the water's properties (i.e. purity, taste, etc.) to worsen considerably; they were retrieved only after the full restoration of the aqueduct, in 1562.
In the second half of the same 16th century, most economic activities in the lower part of district were enhanced when the popes decided to move their official seat to the Quirinal Palace (see below).

one of the groups of the famous fountain: 'the tranquil horse'
Today the main spot of the district is one of Rome's symbols, which receives the daily visit of thousands of tourists from all over the world: the Trevi Fountain [1].
It is located on one side of Palazzo Poli (i.e. the large family mansion at the back of the monument) and it features an allegorical setting, in which god Ocean rides among the rocks on a shell-shaped chariot driven by two horses, while the water, gushing from several outputs, gathers into a very large basin. The small size of the square enhances the really awing effect of the huge composition. For a more detailed description and the fascinating history of the fountain, see the Fountains monograph, part III, page 17.
It is a renowned tradition for tourists to throw a coin into this fountain, to grant their coming back to Rome one day. The considerable amount of money raised by collecting these coins, once a week, is used for charity purposes.
In front of the fountain is a row of houses whose walls enclose a number of old columns: they are the remains of a medieval porch that was completely incorporated into the present building at a later stage. Obviously, visitors never notice this building, as their attention is completely captured by the huge monument!

the usual crowd of tourists in front of the fountain

In a corner of the same square stands also the Baroque church of Saints Vincenzo and Anastasio, which holds some unsual and rather eerie relics: the hearts of almost thirty popes, from Sixtus V (d. 1590) to Leo XIII (d.1903). The custom of embalming the pontiffs came into use in the late 1500s; their heart was removed, being a perishable organ, and was placed into an urn. This church has the 'privilege' of keeping such urns because it is the official parish church of the Quirinal Palace (see further in this page), where the popes set their summer residence starting from Sixtus V. By the main altar, two large plaques carry an inscription with the full list of the names of these popes.

Along via della Stamperia is the front of Palazzo Poli, which in the first half of the 1800 was dwelt by the famous dialect poet Giuseppe Gioachino Belli. In front of the mansion, in a small triangular square, stands the historical Palazzo Carpegna (built between the end of the 16th century and the beginning of the 17th); since 1932 it houses the National Academy of St.Luke, the old painters guild, that was moved here from its original seat by the Roman Forum (see Campitelli district).

the Galleria Sciarra
If you leave the square following via delle Muratte, by the second crossing turn left: at the bottom of the short street you'll come to the Galleria Sciarra [2], a public passage richly decorated with frescoes, whose entrance is partly barred by a large original chain. It was originally built as a private courtyard of Palazzo Sciarra, the large building on both sides of the arcade. The original nucleus of the building is the one on the right, which dates back to the late Renaissance, and whose front stands along via del Corso, along Trevi district's boundary. Around 1880, the owner, still a member of the aristocratic Sciarra family, had the palace refurbished, and this small courtyard created. Shortly later, it was turned into a passage connecting piazza dell'Oratorio, on the opposite side. The chains, which originally prevented passers-by (particularly carriages) from crossing the courtyard, were left in place, merely as a decoration.
Now it belongs to the Roma Foundation. Its inside is gorgeously decorated, representing one of the very few examples of Art Nouveau among Rome's public buildings.

As you exit the Galleria Sciarra (from the opposite end), along the street in front, called via di San Marcello, a very narrow nameless alley springs about midway on the left side; at its bottom stands the tiny chapel of the Madonna dell'Archetto [3], whose curious story is told in Legendary Rome.

The same street ends in the long piazza Santi Apostoli [4]. Its western side is occupied by Palazzo Chigi Odescalchi, built over a preexisting medieval house; it was refurbished by Carlo Maderno in the early 1600s and and then, in c.1665, altered by Gianlorenzo Bernini. It originally belonged to the Colonna family, until the Chigi family moved in (1661), and finally in 1745 it was purchased by the Odescalchi, who had it enlarged by Luigi Vanvitelli. The latter family still owns the mansion.
The even larger complex that stands on the opposite side of the square, comprising the whole block, is Palazzo Colonna, one of Rome's hugest and most ancient family mansions. Its original nucleus was built in the shape of a fortress by the time of Martin V (Oddone Colonna, pope from 1417 to 1431), and in the four following centuries it was enlarged by adding nearby properties, thus gradually turning into a princely residence. Its famous gallery, which stretches along via IV Novembre, holds a rich collection of paintings by the most distinguished artists of the 1400s through the 1500s.

the Madonna dell'Archetto chapel

The long porch in the central part of the building, topped by a row of statues of the late 17th century, belongs to the basilica of the Saint Twelve Apostles (more often referred to as the Saint Apostles) which, in turn, is enclosed on both sides by Palazzo Colonna.
The church was founded in very early times (6th century); its title was inspired by the remains of apostles Philip and James of Alphaeus, held in it. The first building was richly ornate, but it suffered heavy damages during an earthquake in 1348. It was restored about one century later under the pontificate of Martin V (a member of the Colonna family), and provided with a porch. To this stage belong the two column-bearing lions (now without columns) that flank the doorway; a third lion, set below a large plaque with an eagle, bears the name BASSALLECTUS (Vassalletto), the *** of a famous family of marble-workers of the early 1200s: therefore, this is a surviving fragment from the earlier church. At the beginning of the 1700s, the basilica was completely rebuilt, in late Baroque style; the ceiling was painted by Baciccio (1707), and the tomb of pope Clement XIV (1787), a work by antonio Canova, was set there. The famous sculptor also carved the plaque for engraver and ceramist Giovanni Volpato (1803) that hangs below the porch.
the Saint Apostles' church →
piazza Santi Apostoli
One of the church's chapels, owned by cardinal Bessarione (second half of the 1400s) was discovered in 1959; it had been almost completely walled up for the making of another family chapel (Odescalchi) in c.1720. In time, its fine paintings were largely damaged by floods, and during the siege of Rome in 1527; since 2008, some of the surviving parts can be seen. but only with a guided tour, which must be booked in advance. Melozzo da Forlì is credited with these frescoes, as he also painted the ones that once decorated the apse, and were detached in 1711, during the making of the new church; now they are held mostly in the Vatican Art Gallery (Vatican Museums), except one section in the Quirinal Palace, and another one in the Prado Museum (Madrid).

Michelangelo's temporary tomb
Just left to the porch is the entrance to the three cloisters of the church (only two of which are freely open to the public). On the wall of the second cloister hangs a Renaissance tombstone with a reclining bearded figure: in February 1564 Michelangelo was temporarily buried there, before his remains were moved to Florence, about three weeks later. The carved figure, though, is not Michelangelo (despite the resemblance with the artist), but philosopher Ferdinando Eustachio, who died in 1594; his portrait was in fact added to the tomb several years after the death of the famous sculptor and architect.

In their own mansion, the Colonna family used to hold lavish banquets for the high society. But once inside the courtyard, before climbing to the upper levels, whatever male guest, regardless of being an ambassador, a minister, a prince or a cardinal, according to a weird but rather ancient tradition, had to urinate right there, in the open air, into flower pots lined along the wall, in which myrtle and orange plants grew (well watered!); such tradition only came to an end in 1870, when the Papal State fell.

Palazzo dei Santi Apostoli
But this was not the only curious custom concerning the Colonna family; over the 1500s, on the first day of May, they used to throw from the windows of their building chicken and other poultry to the people in the square below, who furiously competed for the game; this event was then followed by a sort of greasy pole contest, held in the church, where the prize to be grabbed was a pig, while a number of pots hanging from the ceiling poured lots of water over the competitors, amidst the general amusement.
The only part of the block not belonging to Palazzo Colonna is that on the left of the basilica, Palazzo dei Santi Apostoli, now a property of the Vatican, that was built for cardinal Giuliano Della Rovere (the future pope Julius II) around 1475, in early Renaissance style, still with a tower in the corner.

← Palazzo dei Santi Apostoli

The right corner of Palazzo Colonna, instead, since the mid 20th century hosts the Wax Museum.

The mansion opposite the museum is Palazzo Valentini [5] (formerly Palazzo Imperiali). Cardinal Michele Bonelli had it built for himself since 1585, over a preexisting building owned by the Boncompagni family. He was also known as the cardinale alessandrino, a title that had been born also by his uncle before being elected pope Pius V, as they both came from the surroundings of Alessandria, in the northern Piedmont region. By that time, the mansion stood at the southern end of piazza Santi Apostoli; the cardinal also held the property of the grounds at the back, presently corresponding to the Imperial Fora (which were still mostly buried); in the same years, on those grounds a whole neighborhood was built, called the Alessandrino district, in honour of the landowner; it was completely taken down between 1924 and 1932 (see Monti district). Around year 1700, the new owner of the mansion, cardinal Imperiali, had it largely refurbished, and moved there his own private library, one of Rome's largest (about 20.000 books). Around the mid century, the property was handed down to cardinal Spinelli, who opened the Imperiali library to the public, but about forty years later all the books were auctioned. In 1827 the mansion was purchased by banker Valentini, whence its present name. Since 1873, it belongs to the city administration, and it is used as the seat of Rome's Provincial Council. Archaeological excavations below the mansion, carried out at different times, unearthed important remains of some ancient Roman domus (patrician houses), that can be visited as part of a multimedia museum.

At the back of Palazzo Colonna runs via della Pilotta, crossed by a number of arches: actually, they are aerial passages that connect Palazzo Colonna to its gardens (i.e. Villa Colonna), which stretch along Quirinal Hill, and whose main entrance is on the opposite side (see further). The street crosses piazza della Pilotta, on whose side stands the large building of the Pontifical Gregorian University (1930); in the 1500s, people started practicing in this square a game in which a ball was hit by the players with their fist, bouncing it on a wall, in a fashion similar to the Spanish game of pelota, from which the curious placename Pilotta sprang.

the arches of via della Pilotta →

the Quirinal Palace
By the first crossing, turn right and follow the rather steep via della Dataria: you'll reach Quirinal Square [6], where the Quirinal Palace was built in the second half of the 16th century. It was originally supposed to act as a summer residence for the popes, but very soon they decided to move here permanently. In 1870 the palace became the residence of Italy's royal family and, in 1948, it was finally chosen as the official residence of the President.
In front of the palace stands a fountain flanked by two large statues of Castor and Pollux, the twin sons of Jupiter, each one leading a horse, and by a Roman obelisk; they are respectively described in the Fountains and Obelisks monographs.

On Sundays, the changing of the guard ceremony takes place in this square, at 6 pm in summer and at 4 pm during the rest of the year.

The Quirinal Palace once had huge mews where horses and carriages were housed: it is the building standing in front of the palace, on the opposite side of the square, which is now used as an art gallery for temporary art exhibitions.
Next to the mews is a monumental double flight of steps leads to the main entrance of Palazzo Colonna (see above).

The third side of the square is closed by another imposing palace, called Palazzo della Consulta, which though belongs to Monti, as Quirinal Square is crossed by the boundary between the two districts.

At the back of Quirinal Palace are its famous gardens, that cover most of the top of Quirinal Hill. Unfortunately they are open to the public only once a year. In 1902 a large tunnel was built below the gardens, in order to connect the busy streets on the two sides of the hill, via Nazionale and via del Tritone.

via delle Quattro Fontane and via Sistina: at the end
stands the obelisk located above the Spanish Steps
Following the side of Quirinal Palace, along via del Quirinale, which runs just above the tunnel's entrance, you'll come to a crossing whose corners are marked by four small fountains [7]. This spot, known as the Four Fountains, is famous because from the middle of the crossing three ancient obelisks can be seen in the distance, in three different directions. One of them is the aforesaid obelisk in Quirinal Square, another one is the Sallustian obelisk, located at the top of the Spanish Steps, in front of the church of Trinità dei Monti, and the third one, in the opposite direction, is the Liberian obelisk by the basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore (see the Obelisks monograph, page 3, for details).
The two latter spires are conected by a long and perfectly straight street, that runs from the top of the Pincio Hill towards the Esquiline Hill, reaching the Four Fountains crossing (i.e. the top of Quirinal Hill) about midway. This street was opened around 1590 by pope Sixtus V, whose purpose was to connect the church of Trinità dei Monti to Saint Mary the Major's and, beyond the latter church, to the basilica of Santa Croce in Gerusalemme, for a total length of c.3 km / 1.5 mi; originally it was called via Felice ("Happy Street") after the pope's own name, Felice Peretti. It is presently split into several stretches, named via Sistina, via delle Quattro Fontane, via Agostino Depretis (Monti district), and then via Carlo Alberto, via Conte Verde, via di Santa Croce in Gerusalemme.

Halfway down the steep via delle Quattro Fontane, on the right side of the street, a huge gate with tall ornate pillars gives access to the grounds of the city's largest Baroque mansion: Palazzo Barberini [8] (finished in 1633), which pope Urban VIII, who belonged to this powerful family, soon after being elected (1625) had built for himself by hiring the best architects and artists active in Rome in those days, such as Carlo Maderno, Gianlorenzo Bernini, Francesco Borromini and Pietro da Cortona. The building's plan appears very similar to that of Villa Farnesina in Trastevere district, which likely inspired its project. In earlier days, the family dwelt a large building in Regola district, one part of which now houses the civic pawnshop (Monte di Pietà).
Palazzo Barberini houses a section of the National Gallery of Ancient Art; several temporary art exhibitions are often held here, as well.

Palazzo Barberini's lavish gate

Palazzo Barberini, etching by G.B.Piranesi

On the corner of a building standing in front of Palazzo Barberini, where via degli Avignonesi springs off via delle Quattro Fontane, a plaque dating to the first quarter of the 17th century reads:
← a famous painting
by Raphael, on display
in Palazzo Barberini


The 'area' mentioned in the inscription is today's piazza Barberini, which was once called piazza Grimana up to 1627, then piazza Sforza for a short time, up to 1640, when it took its present name in honour of Urban VIII and his family. However, despite the plaque's text, no monument dedicated to Paul V (1605-21) stands there today, nor can be found in city plans of the early 17th century. So this inscription remains a riddle!

the two fountains by Bernini in piazza Barberini
Instead, in the middle of the aforesaid square stands the Fountain of the Triton [9], among the most famous works by Gianlorenzo Bernini, who carved this bold composition in 1644, soon after having finished his duties in the making of Palazzo Barberini. And in a corner of the same square, a smaller fountain by the same artist can be found, in the shape of a large sea-shell, with three enormous bees resting on its base, celebrating Urban VIII, who was the artist's sponsor (the bees were the heraldic device of the Barberini family). More about these fountains can be found in the relevant monograph, in part III and in part II, respectively.

Finally, moving back towards Trevi Square, the building in via della Panetteria no.15 [10], Palazzo Antamoro, conceils a 'secret': in its courtyard stands a further fountain built by Gianlorenzo Bernini in the late 1660s, shaped as two twin tritons blowing into conch shells. The artist had been given commission for its making by a relative of pope Clement IX, who lived there. The coat of arms that hangs on top of the fountain, in fact, used to be that of the pope's own family, the Rospigliosi. Later in time it was replaced with a different coat of arms, belonging to cardinal Antamoro, who in the 18th century bought the property.
As the building is still dwelt by several private families, its doorway is not always open; but should the courtyard be accessible, it is strongly advisable to pop in, not to miss this small 'private Bernini', undoubtly a minor work, yet still in the typical fashion of his best-known creations.

the private courtyard fountain by Bernini →
In the easternmost corner of the district stands the church of Santa Maria in Via [11].
In year 1256, in place of this church was the stable of the mansion dwelt by cardinal Capocci. On the night between September 26 and 27, a water well that was there suddenly started to overflow. While the stable was being flooded, a small image of the Virgin Mary is said to have come mysteriously afloat from the bottom of the well, and in the very moment it was found, the overflow came to an end.
In the early 1500s a church was built on the site of the old stable, to honour the prodigious image, known as the 'Madonna of the Well', which is believed to have the power of performing miracles. By the end of the same century, the church was completely rebuilt into its present shape. In the first chapel on the right, a small marble fount kept in a niche on the right wall claims to draw water from the same site of the old well. The chapel's baluster is fitted with a water nozzle, and paper cups are available: drinking this water is considered a form of worship for those who plea to the image, a 13th century painting on slate that hangs over the altar.

← a faithful drinks water by the image of the 'Madonna of the Well';
the nozzle and the paper cups on the baluster are indicated by the arrow